Fall From Grace
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Tim Weaver

 

FALL FROM GRACE

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Penguin Random House UK

First published 2014

Copyright © Tim Weaver, 2014

Cover images © Dorian Lelek and © Shutterstock

All rights reserved

The moral right of the author has been asserted

ISBN: 978-1-405-91347-8

Contents

Part One

1978

   Chapter 1

2013

   Chapter 2

   Chapter 3

   Chapter 4

   Chapter 5

   Chapter 6

   Chapter 7

   Chapter 8

   The First Goodbye

   Chapter 9

   Chapter 10

   Chapter 11

   Chapter 12

   Chapter 13

   Chapter 14

   Chapter 15

   Chapter 16

   The Boyfriend

   Chapter 17

   Chapter 18

   Chapter 19

   Retreat

Part Two

   Chapter 20

   Chapter 21

   Chapter 22

   Chapter 23

   Chapter 24

   Chapter 25

   Box of Regrets

   Chapter 26

   Chapter 27

   Chapter 28

   Chapter 29

   Chapter 30

   Chapter 31

   Chapter 32

   Chapter 33

   Chapter 34

   Chapter 35

   Chapter 36

   Chapter 37

   Chapter 38

   Chapter 39

   Simon

   Chapter 40

   Chapter 41

   Bethlehem

Part Three

   Chapter 42

   Chapter 43

   Chapter 44

   Chapter 45

   Chapter 46

   Chapter 47

   Chapter 48

   Chapter 49

   Chapter 50

   Chapter 51

   Chapter 52

   Chapter 53

   Chapter 54

   Chapter 55

   Chapter 56

   Casey

   Chapter 57

   Chapter 58

   Chapter 59

   Chapter 60

   Chapter 61

   Chapter 62

   Chapter 63

   Chapter 64

   Chapter 65

Part Four

   Chapter 66

   Chapter 67

   Chapter 68

   Chapter 69

   The End

   Chapter 70

   Chapter 71

   Chapter 72

   Chapter 73

   Chapter 74

   Chapter 75

   Chapter 76

   Chapter 77

   Chapter 78

   Chapter 79

   Chapter 80

   Chapter 81

   Chapter 82

   Chapter 83

   Chapter 84

   Chapter 85

   Chapter 86

   Chapter 87

   Chapter 88

   Chapter 89

Acknowledgements

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PENGUIN BOOKS

FALL FROM GRACE

Tim Weaver is the Sunday Times bestselling author of the David Raker Missing Persons series. Weaver has been nominated for a National Book Award, selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, and shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in the Library award, which considers an author’s entire body of work. His seventh novel, Broken Heart, was longlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award.

He is also the host and producer of the chart-topping Missing podcast, which features experts in the field discussing missing persons investigations from every angle. A former journalist and magazine editor, he lives near Bath with his wife and daughter.

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THE BEGINNING

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1.

After it was all over, they let me watch the footage of her entering the police station. She seemed small, almost curved, as if her spine was arched or she might be in pain, and she was wearing a green raincoat and black court shoes. The quality of the surveillance film was poor, the frame rate set low, so that it made it disorientating, a series of jerky movements played out against the stillness of the station’s front desk.

She paused at the entrance to start with, holding the main door ajar so that light leaked in across the tiled floor and seemed to bleach one side of her face. The faded colours of the film didn’t help, reducing blacks to greys and everything else to pastels, and even when she let the door go again and it snapped shut behind her, her features didn’t quite articulate. Her gaze was a dark blob, her blonde hair appeared grey. I couldn’t see anything of the slight freckling that passed from one cheek to the other, crossing the bridge of her nose; not the blue and green flash of her eyes. Under the glare of the camera, she may as well have been just another visitor to a police station.

A stranger, nothing else.

Once she let the door go, she headed across the room to the front desk. On the timecode in the corner I could see it was just before 8am. An officer was standing behind the counter, engaged in conversation with someone else, a kid in his teens with a black eye and bloodied cheek. The woman waited patiently behind the teenager until the front desk officer told her to take a seat. She did so, reluctantly, her head down, her feet barely seeming to carry her to a bank of chairs.

Ten minutes passed. The angle of the camera made it hard to see her, her head bowed, her hands knotted together in her lap, but then, after the desk officer finished with the teenager and told him to take a seat, she beckoned the woman back across to the counter. I met the desk officer when I turned up at the station in the hours after: she had short black hair flecked with grey and a scar high on her left cheek, but on the film I couldn’t see the detail in either.

The woman stopped at the counter.

The desk officer bent slightly, so that her head was level with the woman’s and even though the film’s frame rate was low and it didn’t record her lip movements in real-time, I could still tell what she’d asked the woman.

You alright, love?

The woman didn’t respond immediately. Instead, she reached into the pocket of her coat and started looking for something. It began as a slow movement, but then became more frantic when she couldn’t find what she was looking for. She checked one pocket, then another, and in the third she found what she was after.

As she unfolded the piece of paper, she finally responded to the officer.

Hello.

I couldn’t tell what the woman said after that, the frame rate making it all but impossible to follow the patterns of her mouth, but she shifted position and, because the camera was fixed to the wall about a foot and a half above her, I could see more of her, could see there was just a single line on the piece of paper. Under the pale rinse of the room’s strip lights, her hair definitely looked blonde now, not grey, and it had been tied into a loose ponytail. Despite that, it was messy and unkempt, stray strands everywhere, at her collar, across her face, and even within the confines of the film, the way it twitched and jarred between frames, it was easy to tell that she was agitated.

Finally, her eyes met the officer’s and the woman held up the piece of paper and started to talk. I could see the teenager look up from his mobile phone, as if sparked into life by what the woman was saying. They told me afterwards that the woman had been crying, that it was difficult to understand what she was talking about, that her voice, the things that she was saying, were hard to process. I watched the desk officer lean in towards her, a hand up in front of her, telling the woman to calm down. She paused, her body swaying slightly, her shoulders moving up and down, and gestured to the piece of paper again.

This time I could read her lips clearly.

Find him.

2.

The call came on December 28.

I’d spent Christmas with my daughter, Annabel, in her house in south Devon. She was twenty-eight and lived within sight of a lake at the edges of Buckfastleigh with her twelve-year-old sister Olivia. I’d only known the two of them for four years – before that, I’d had no idea I was even a father – and although, biologically, Olivia wasn’t mine, her parents were gone and I looked out for her just the same. Liv had now gone past the point of believing that an old man with a white beard came down the chimney with a sackful of presents, but she was still a kid, and kids always made Christmas more fun. We opened gifts, we watched old movies and played even older board games, we ate and drank and chased Annabel’s dog across a Dartmoor flecked in frost, and then I curled up with them in the evenings on the sofa and realised how little I missed London. It was where I lived, where my work was, but it was also where my home stood, empty even when I was inside it. It had been that way, and felt like that, every day for eight years, ever since my wife Derryn had died.

The morning of the call, I woke early and went for a run, following the lanes to the west of the house as they gently rose towards the heart of the moors. It was cold, the trees skeletal, the hedgerows thinned out by winter, ice gathered in slim sheets – like panes of glass – on the country roads. After four miles, I hit a reservoir, a bridge crossing it from one side to the other. Close by, cows grazed in the grass, hemmed in by wire fences, and I could see a farmer and his dog, way off into the distance, the early-morning light winking in the windows of a tractor. I carried on for a while longer until I reached a narrow road set upon a hill with views across a valley of green and brown fields, all perfectly stitched together. Breathless, I paused there and took in the view.

That was when my phone started ringing.

I had it strapped to my arm, the mobile mapping my route, and I awkwardly tried to release it, first from the headphones I had plugged in, then from the pouch it was secured inside. When I finally got it out, I could see it was a central London number, and guessed it would be probably be someone who needed my help, somebody whose loved one had gone missing. Very briefly, I toyed with the idea of not answering it at all, of protecting my time off, this time alone with a daughter I’d only known for a fraction of my life, and was still getting to know. But then reality hit. The missing were my ballast. In the time since Derryn had died, they’d been my lifeblood, the only way I could breathe properly. This break would have to end and, sooner or later, I’d have to return to London and, when I did, my work would become my anchor again.

‘David Raker.’

‘Mr Raker, my name’s Detective Sergeant Catherine Field.’

Thrown for a moment, I tried to recall if I’d come across Field before, or if I’d ever heard anyone mention her name.

‘How can I help you?’

‘It’s a bit of a weird one, really,’ Field responded, and then paused. ‘We’ve had someone walk into the station here at Charing Cross this morning. She seems quite confused.’ Another pause. ‘Or maybe she’s not confused. I don’t know, to be honest.’

‘Okay,’ I said, unsure where this was going.

‘She doesn’t have anything on her – no phone, no ID. The only thing she brought along with her is a scrap of paper. It’s got your name on it.’

I looked out at the view, my body beginning to cool down, the sweat freezing against my skin. My website was only basic, little more than an overview and a contact form, but it listed my email address and a phone number.

‘I expect she found me online,’ I said.

‘Maybe,’ Field replied.

Field cleared her throat, the line drifting a little.

‘So are you saying she wants my help?’

‘I’m not sure what she wants.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘She says she knows you.’

‘Knows me how?’

Field cleared her throat for a second time.

‘She says she’s your wife.’

I frowned. ‘My wife?’

‘That’s what she says.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘No, my wife has been dead for eight years.’

‘Since 2009,’ Field replied. ‘I know, I just read that online.’

I waited for her to continue, to say something else, to tell me this was a joke at my expense, some bad taste prank. But she didn’t. Instead, she said something worse.

‘This woman, she says her name’s Derryn Raker.’

‘What?’

‘Derryn Alexandra Raker.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘No way. She’s lying.’

‘She seems pretty convinced about it.’

‘It’s not Derryn. Derryn’s dead.’

‘Yeah, well, that’s the other thing she said,’ Field replied, her voice even, hard to interpret or analyse. ‘She tells me she’s really sorry for what she’s put you through – but now she wants to explain everything.’

3.

I didn’t get back into London until after four-thirty, and by the time I arrived at Charing Cross, the city was dark, its streets frozen. I felt numb as I climbed the steps, unsure of myself, angry, dazed. The phonecall had created a hollow in my chest and I’d spent four hours on the motorway trying to close it up, trying to talk myself down.

It wasn’t Derryn.

It wasn’t my wife.

I’d buried her eight years ago. I’d been with her at the hospital when they told us she had breast cancer. I’d sat with her when she was going through chemotherapy. I’d been there, holding her hand the first time, the second, the third when she told me she wasn’t going to go through it again, because it wasn’t working and she was tired, so tired, of all the medicine and the sickness and the hospital visits. She’d sat with me on the edge of the bed, in the house that we’d shared, as I cried, as we’d both cried. She was the one that started me along the path to finding missing people, sitting there in a chair on our back deck, telling me it was a perfect fit for who I was. She was the one they’d carried out of the house on a stretcher on the morning only one of us woke up.

The woman wasn’t Derryn.

And yet, as I crossed the tiled floors of the station to where the front desk was, I couldn’t quite let go of the idea that I wanted it to be. That somehow, for some reason, it really had been a lie; the past eight years had been a mistake, some sort of deception at my expense. I’d never loved another woman like I’d loved Derryn, and the women I’d met since her death, who I’d dated and tried to love the same way, had eventually fallen away because of it. What if it was her? Did that mean I was sick? Delusional?

‘Yes, sir?’

The desk officer was looking inquisitively at me.

‘I’m David Raker.’

The surname instantly registered and she told me to take a seat. A couple of minutes later, DC Catherine Field emerged from a security door beside the desk. She waved me across to her. I got up, my legs weaker than they should have been, my heart beating hard against my ribs, and we shook hands. She was in her thirties with sandy hair, clipped at the arc of her forehead and falling against her shoulders, and had grey eyes that matched the colour of her trouser-suit, the jacket buttoned up at the front.

She led me into a long corridor. I could hear telephones and the hum of conversation. Through a window, I glimpsed an office, a whiteboard with notes in blue and green pen, and a map of central London, pinned with pictures and Post-its.

At the end, we moved through a second security door, and as Field held it open for me she spoke: ‘Thanks for getting here so quickly. I know this is …’

She faded out.

I’d told her on the phone that it wasn’t Derryn. I told her everything I’d already told myself, except I’d left out the parts about wanting it to be her, much less the moments where I actually believed it might be. Closing my eyes for a second, I tried to clear my head. I needed to be lucid. When I faced this woman, when I tried to find out why she’d pretend to be Derryn, I needed my emotions pushed all the way back.

Field came to a halt in front of another office that – except for an interview room – was exactly the same as the first. There was a small Christmas tree on a desk in the corner, tinsel snaking through its fake branches, and a few token baubles hanging from filing cabinets and off the corner of the whiteboard. Beyond that was the interview room, its door slightly ajar.

People in the office glanced at me, plain clothes officers in the middle of phonecalls or working at computers. In the spaces above my head, I heard warm air being pumped out of a heating unit, could feel it against my face. The longer I stood there, the more the heat started to create a haze behind my eyes, a blur, a fog that made me feel unsteady on my feet and vaguely disquieted: except it wasn’t the heat that was getting to me, and it wasn’t the detectives staring out of the office in my direction – it was the woman inside the interview room.

I could just see the slant of her back and some of her hair. Both her legs were tucked in under a table, most of her face was obscured by the door, and the clothes she was wearing – a red jumper and a pair of pale grey tracksuit trousers – didn’t fit. I doubted if they were the clothes she turned up in. Those had probably been bagged as evidence and replacements provided by the police. She’d had no ID on her, couldn’t remember her address when asked, and she’d turned up in a distressed state, so the minute Field met her, she’d have been treating the woman like a crime scene: kidnapping, imprisonment, being held against her will – Field would have considered all of them. That made her clothes evidence, her skin, her nails. They would have used an Early Evidence Kit too if there were signs of sexual assault or rape. They would have been through the database looking for the woman, for a history, searching under the name she’d given them for any record she may have had, or connections to anyone. The only person they would have found was me. Derryn never got as much as a speeding ticket, but I was different: I’d been arrested before, cautioned, interviewed about cases I’d worked and people I’d gone looking for. If Field was searching for a lead right off the bat, she’d have got it, and when I glanced at her, I saw the confirmation: my entry on the database had rung alarm bells, and now I wasn’t just here assisting.

I was a potential suspect.

4.

I looked at Field and said, ‘My wife is dead.’

I wasn’t sure if it was an effort to convince her, or myself.

Field glanced at me. ‘She died of cancer, right?’

‘Right.’

‘Breast cancer.’

‘Yes.’

‘And this was in 2009?’

I nodded.

‘Yeah,’ Field said, ‘Like I said, I found that online.’

She might have found it on the database somewhere, but more likely she’d got the details from the internet. I’d never sought out notoriety, and had never given a single interview, but it hadn’t stopped journalists from camping outside my door in the aftermath of some of my most publicised cases. And now the results of that were out there on websites; an insect frozen in amber that I could never cut out or dislodge.

We looked at each other for a moment.

‘You don’t believe me?’ I said.

‘About what?’

‘You don’t believe my wife is dead?’

‘It seems to be a matter of public record.’

I eyed her, trying to understand her meaning.

‘You think I disseminated a lie?’

‘No,’ Field said, ‘that’s not what I said.’

‘That’s what it sounded like.’

‘Don’t get paranoid, Mr Raker.’

‘It’s not paranoia,’ I said. ‘I know what you’re thinking. I understand why. I know it’s your job to look at it from this angle. But I watched my wife die slowly over the course of two and a half years, and I didn’t imagine that, or make it up. I sat beside her in the hospital and slept next to her at night, and when she decided that she’d had enough, when she finally died, it took everything from me. It took everything.’ I turned to Field again and cleared my throat, trying to keep my emotions in check. ‘I don’t know who this woman is, or why she’s doing this – but the one thing I can tell you for certain is that it’s not Derryn.’

It was hard to tell if any of that had made any difference, because Field simply nodded again, her eyes on the interview suite, and said, ‘I told her what you said to me on the phone earlier – and she says you must be confused.’

‘I’m not confused.’

‘She also mentioned that she’d been missing.’

That stopped me.

‘Missing where?’

‘She didn’t say, but that’s one of the other reasons we have to get involved. She told us her she’s your wife, she mentioned that she’s been missing for eight years, and she says she’s not going to say anything else until she’s seen you.’ Field already had a pad, now she removed a pencil. ‘She only wants to talk to you.’

There was a moment’s silence, the lull filled with the sound of phone calls and conversations from the office. Eventually, Field said, ‘You have a daughter, right?’

‘Yes. Annabel.’

‘Derryn wasn’t her mother?’

She eyed me. She was clearly asking if I’d ever cheated on my wife.

‘No,’ I said. ‘I never knew a thing about Annabel until her mother finally told me about her five years ago. Her mother and I, we went out for a year when we were both seventeen, before I left for university, and we split up – amicably – before I went. She was already pregnant by then, but she chose not to tell me. I married Derryn not knowing I was a father, and Derryn never met Annabel before she died.’

Field nodded. ‘Good to know.’

I looked towards the interview room again.

‘We’re not going to let you talk to her.’

I turned to Field. ‘What?’

‘Even though that’s what she’s requested, we can’t do that. You can probably appreciate the reasons why. We need to fully understand her reasons for being here, and putting the two of you in the same room before we even know what those reasons are … Well, that’s not going to happen.’ Again, she was underlining what I already knew.

I was a potential suspect.

She gestured for me to follow her and took me into an adjacent room where a bank of monitors were lined up on a desk. From the doorway, I could see the image of the woman on one of the monitors, seated in an interview suite, and the closer in I got, the more uneven I started to feel: I was swaying, my heart hammering so hard, I could hear its echoes in my ears. It wasn’t hot in the room but I was sweating all the same – across my brow, along my top lip.

‘Take a seat and put on the headphones,’ Field said.

I leaned in towards the monitor, trying to get a better look at her, at her face, and as I did, everything seemed to still. I pulled a chair out, sat, and realised Field was watching me, not her. Almost on cue, the woman half-turned in the direction of the camera, her eyes on the door, and I saw her properly for the first time.

No. No way.

‘Mr Raker?’

I glanced at Field, then back to the monitor.

‘She …’

I stopped.

‘She what?’ Field asked.

‘She looks just like Derryn.’

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Also by Tim Weaver

 

Chasing the Dead

The Dead Tracks

Vanished

Never Coming Back

For Sharlé

Author’s Note

For the purposes of the story, I have made some small alterations to the working practices and structure of the Metropolitan Police. My hope is that it’s done subtly enough not to cause any offence.

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Part One

 

1978

1

It took them an hour to get to the beach, a small, horseshoe-shaped bay on the southern tip of the county. The father had wanted to get there early, to avoid having to fight for a space in the tiny car park, and because someone in their village had told him that there were five spaces – tucked away beneath the slant of a vast, ninety-foot rock face – that stayed in the shade all day. When they arrived and saw there were two spaces still empty, the father drummed out a victory beat on the wheel of the Hillman Avenger and started whistling to himself. His wife, in the passenger seat next to him, broke out into a smile.

‘I think we can safely say you’re happy.’

‘Is it too early for an ice cream?’

She rolled her eyes. ‘We’ve only just had breakfast.’

‘That was over an hour ago,’ he joked, and after he parked up and turned off the engine he looked over his shoulder, towards the back seat. His son was up on his knees, fingers pressed to the glass, looking out at the cove.

‘What do you think, my boy?’

‘Are there rocks to climb here, Dad?’

His father laughed. ‘Yes, son. There are rocks to climb.’

The tide was on its way out, a swathe of wrinkled beach left in its wake. Beyond the blanket of sand was water as clear as glass, much of it contained within the gentle arc of the cove, the rest out in the channel, where the boy thought it looked like the world went on for ever. Excited now, he helped his dad take two deckchairs and all the food down to the sand, then came back for his bucket and spade, and made a break for the water’s edge. Behind him, his mother called after him, telling him not to wander off too far, and he shouted back to her that he wouldn’t. As the father set up, the mother continued to watch the boy, a trail of his footprints leading all the way down to the sea.

‘He’s so grown up now,’ she said.

‘He’s only eight, Marie.’

‘I know.’ She stopped, watching the boy dipping his toe into the water. ‘But don’t you think the time’s going so fast? I mean, it seems like only yesterday the nurses were handing him to me for the first time. Now look at him.’

‘He’s fine.’

‘I know. I don’t mean he’s not fine. I just mean … before we know it, he’ll be married, with his own kids. Maybe he won’t even stay in this area.’

‘Of course he will.’

‘There are no opportunities for him here, Tom.’

‘What are you talking about? He’ll take over the business.’

‘He says he doesn’t want it.’

‘He’s only eight.’ He came up behind his wife and put his arms around her waist. ‘He doesn’t know what he wants. When I was eight, I wanted to be an astronaut.’

‘I just don’t want him to forget us.’

He kissed his wife on the cheek. ‘He won’t forget his old mum.’

At the water’s edge, the boy turned back to them and waved his mother towards him. ‘Mum!’ the boy shouted. ‘Mum, come and look at this!’

‘See?’ the boy’s father said. ‘I told you.’

She smiled again, kissed her husband on the cheek and headed down to where her son was standing in a foot of water, pointing to something out beyond the edge of the cove. At first, as she followed his line of sight, she couldn’t tell what had got his attention. But then it emerged, on its own out in the channel, like a lonely, drifting ship.

The island.

She’d tried to forget how close they were to it here.

‘What’s the matter, sweetheart?’

But she already knew. The island sat like a fin above the water, a craggy sliver of land a quarter of a mile out to sea, awkward, broken, ominous. Even from this distance, even as light bounced off the water and the sun beat down, there remained something dark about it; all the stories it had to tell, all the memories it wished it could forget.

Instinctively, she put a hand on her son’s shoulder.

‘What is that place, Mum?’ the boy asked.

She looked out across the channel, unsure how to respond.

‘Mum?’

‘It’s … It’s, uh …’

‘What?’ the boy said. ‘What is it?’

And then slowly, automatically, she brought him into her, pressing him to her hip, and she said to her son, ‘It’s somewhere bad, sweetheart. It’s somewhere very bad.’

2013

2

The address I’d been given overlooked a railway switchyard in Pimlico. Built from London stock brick, the two-storey building was a quarter of a mile south of Victoria station, almost on the banks of the Thames. There was no signage on it and its windows were dark, giving the impression it was empty. But it wasn’t empty. As I got closer, I could see the hardwood front door had been freshly painted in a muted blue and a security camera was fixed to the wall, its lens focused on the entrance. Embedded in a space next to the door was a number pad with an intercom. I buzzed once and waited.

From where I was standing, the river was mostly obscured by the rusting iron struts of a railway bridge, but in between I could see a slow procession of sightseeing trips carving along the water. This close to Christmas, the vessels all had fairy lights winking in their windows, and some of the tourists – braving the chill of winter – stood on the decks, wearing Santa hats. Otherwise, there seemed a strange kind of hush to the morning, a greyness, like the city had slipped into hibernation.

A couple of seconds later, a ping came from the intercom and the door bumped away from its frame. Inside was a short corridor with polished oak floors and a big arched window, light bleeding out across the walls and ceiling. Everything was finished in the same neutral off-white colour, except for two blue doors at the end and a marble counter on the right. Behind it sat a smartly dressed woman in her early twenties.

‘Mr Raker?’

I nodded. ‘Was that just a lucky guess?’

She smiled, reached under the counter and brought out a visitors’ ledger. ‘I was told to expect you about this time,’ she said, and laid a fountain pen on top. ‘If you can just sign and date it, I’ll show you where you need to go.’

I signed my name. ‘It’s 12 December today, right?’

‘That’s right, sir.’ Once I was done, she gestured towards the first blue door. ‘Head through there to find our meeting rooms. Yours is Dickens. When you’ve finished, feel free to use our facilities. We have a bar in the basement, and that second door takes you into our restaurant. We serve food between twelve and four, although you’ll need to ensure your representative is with you, as we only serve guests when they dine with a member.’

‘Okay.’

‘Is there anything else, Mr Raker?’

‘No, I think that’s fine.’

I headed through the first blue door.

Another corridor revealed eight further doors, four on each side, all closed, all with brass plates. Each was named after a British writer, and Dickens was the fourth down on the left. As I approached, I could hear the hum of conversation in one of the rooms. The others were completely silent. At Dickens, I knocked twice.

‘Come in.’

The meeting room was small but immaculate: more oak flooring, chocolate-coloured walls, a twelve-foot table, and floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over a pristine garden. Above it, I could just make out the railway bridge, but otherwise it was easy to forget that the building was surrounded by industry and roads.

‘Mr Raker.’

DCI Melanie Craw got up from a seat at the head of the table, a laptop and a closed file in front of her, and came around to greet me. We shook hands, then she pushed the door shut and directed me to the table. I took a seat, removing my jacket.

‘Would you like something to drink?’ she asked.

‘Water would be fine. Thank you.’

Craw was in her early forties, slim, with a short, practical haircut, and cool, unreadable eyes. No jewellery, except for a wedding band. Never skirts, only trousers, and always the same subdued colours. She was stoic and steady, difficult to break down, but she wasn’t unfeeling. She had an understanding of people, of what made them tick. We’d never had a working relationship, just a caustic, often bitter series of confrontations, but I admired her all the same. I couldn’t honestly have said if the feeling was mutual.

As she went to a cabinet in the far corner, where a jug of iced water and some glasses were sitting on top, a brief, uncomfortable silence settled between us.

Perhaps it wasn’t so surprising. I found missing people for a living, and through my work had come into conflict with Craw when she’d been the SIO on a case that had almost cost me my life. I’d been stabbed in the chest and left to die in the shadows of a cemetery by a man we’d both ended up trying to find. Through luck or fate, or a little of both, I’d been discovered, spent a month strapped to a hospital bed, and the next four recovering at the old place my parents had left me in south Devon.

Afterwards, I’d wondered if I ever wanted to return to London.

In the end, I had, not only because the city was where most of my work was, but because, once the physical pain was gone, the only thing I had to face down were the memories of what had happened to me – and those memories were all here. As she handed me a glass of water, I imagined – eighteen months on – Melanie Craw was different as well. Things had changed for me. It seemed impossible they hadn’t changed for her too.

‘Thanks for coming,’ she said. ‘You found it okay, obviously.’

‘It looks derelict from the road.’

She smiled, sitting down. ‘I think that’s why people like it.’

‘Are you a member here?’

‘Through my husband. These sorts of places … I guess it’s a male thing. I don’t really get it, but it’s always made him happy. I find it’s useful for meetings like these.’

‘Meetings like what?’

She nodded. ‘I wanted to offer you some work.’ She saw the surprise in my face, nodded again, as if to reassure me, and pushed the file across the table.

I glanced at it, then back to her.

‘I want you to find someone.’

It was my turn to smile this time. I had a long and illustrious history of making enemies at the Met, Craw among them, not intentionally and not with any sense of enjoyment, but as a by-product of what I did. In the end, I’d accepted it as collateral damage. I didn’t do this job to make friends, I did it in order to bring home the missing.

‘I can’t see the Met signing off on this,’ I said to her.

‘Well, you’re right about that.’

‘So why am I here?’

‘This isn’t for the Met.’

I studied her, instantly suspicious of her intentions. The idea of Craw asking for my help – even as time dulled the memory of our last encounter – seemed utterly perverse; the type of thing she’d have refused to do, even if someone had held a gun to her head. But there was no movement in her face. No hint she wasn’t serious.

So I opened the file.

A man in his early sixties looked up at me, his picture stapled to the front page of a missing persons report. He was sitting on the edge of a rock, somewhere on moorland, a vast green valley sweeping into the distance behind him. It looked like the picture had been cropped: along one edge was the outline of a second person; along the bottom of the shot, I could make out the curve of a rucksack. His name was Leonard Franks.

He’d been missing since 3 March.

He was sixty-two, six foot one, had grey hair and blue eyes – but I knew his physical description wouldn’t be what got him found now. Once people were removed from their routines, they changed quickly: sometimes because they wanted to, sometimes because it was forced on them. But mostly, this far on, they weren’t making any choices at all – because, by now, the majority of missing people were decaying in a hole somewhere, waiting to be found. Even if I gave the families I worked for the benefit of the doubt, and started from the assumption the victim was alive, Franks had been gone nine months, and after that amount of time, a disappearance was never about the way someone looked. It was about the way they thought. Their exit. Their reasons for going.

Their final destination.

I looked at his address. ‘He lived in Postbridge?’

‘About a mile north of it, yes.’

That was right in the heart of Dartmoor, about thirty-five miles north of the village in which I’d grown up. And yet, as I returned to his profile, I saw that he’d been born in London and spent his entire life in the city.

‘So he retired to Devon?’

She nodded again. ‘Two years ago.’

I started to leaf through the rest of the file and saw for the first time that he’d been a police officer, retiring at sixty as Detective Chief Superintendent of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command. It was a senior post, and he seemed to have been highly rated. According to the file, he’d put in for retirement at fifty-five, after thirty years of pensionable service, but had been asked by the Assistant Commissioner to stay on.

‘How did he go missing?’ I asked.

‘He and his wife lived in this place, like an old hunting lodge,’ Craw said, ‘and there was a woodshed at the side of the building, and another for tools at the back. Not much else apart from that. They were pretty isolated up there. Their nearest neighbours were about a mile away, there was open moorland in all directions, and it was so quiet you could hear a car making an approach five minutes before it even came into view.’

She looked across the table at the picture of Franks.

‘Anyway, the two of them were sitting in front of the fire late afternoon, and it started to die out, so she asked him to get some more logs. It was early March, still pretty cold then, especially up on the moors. She goes to put the kettle on and cut them both a slice of cake, while he goes out to the woodshed. He’d done it a thousand times before; the woodshed was literally at the end of the veranda, less than ten feet from the front door.’ She stopped; looked at me. ‘Except this time he never came back.’

I frowned. ‘He went out to the woodshed and didn’t return?’

‘Correct.’

‘So where did he go?’

She shrugged.

‘Did his wife go out and look for him?’

‘Yes.’

‘And she didn’t find him?’

‘It wasn’t dark, so she could see clearly in all directions. There were no cars. No people. They were up there on their own. It was like he’d just vanished into thin air.’

My eyes dropped to the picture of Franks and, as I studied his face, for the first time something registered with me. A physical similarity.

‘So who is he?’ I asked.

‘His name’s Leonard Franks.’

‘No. I mean, who is he to you?’

She paused for a moment, eyes still on the picture of Franks, hands flat to the table. ‘He’s my father,’ she said quietly.